My mother has two distinct qualities. First, dragging God into matters where she thinks her logic fails to convince us and second, choosing health over taste. ALWAYS. Since God is busy multitasking and seldom comes to my mom’s rescue, my mom leaves no stone unturned in exercising her second quality. As a result of this she only thinks dal and veggies. She prefers calculating the amount of protein to calculating calories. So, where cakes and goodies make special appearances, dal is the undisputed king of the dining table( courtesy the abundance of protein). Its availability makes it a clear winner against the seasonal green vegetables. It is there on the table every meal, 365 days of the year.
I started, like any other child, with detesting it. The yellow slimy liquid yelled out health each time I popped a spoon full of it into my mouth. For me each bowl of dal (though different colors when uncooked) had the same color when cooked…that of Hatred. However, it did not take me long to realize, there was no escaping the evil bowl of health. Slowly I stopped making faces but I had preferences. I could not make out which dal I was eating but would quickly refer to my memory and yell, “Ye wo dal nahi hai, tasty wala”. My mom read between the lines. So before I could decipher which of those colors I liked, my mom knew.
Then came the obvious next step (after I was old enough to place a pressure cooker on the gas burner) of taming the monster. I learnt how to prepare dal even before mugging up the color coding and nomenclature involved. I would rush, with a jar full of one of the colors, to my mom to confirm whether that was the one to be converted to yellow, on that day. I do not remember when I started recognizing one color from the other. Just like I do not remember how did I learn how to check time (Do you?). By the way I still have friends who cannot name different kinds of pulses, so I chuckle, each time I think I can.
After leaving home, at 18, I traveled down south for studies. Only to find all new preparations and flavors of dal(by now my favorite). The density reduced and the sourness increased. The only common thing, its omnipresence. From sambhar to rasam to vada to probably everything. Luckily I did not take time acquiring the taste. I fell in love with it instantly.
Lately, I realized the irony. While the most exotic Indian menus (especially vegetarian) have a “dal makhani” included, the term dal is always associated with lack of wealth. This came to my mind when I was text-chatting with a colleague of mine, who was waiting to place his order for lunch at a dhaba near office. The topic of discussion was appraisals and increments and the moment I messaged that I thought there were going to be none, the reply was, “thought of ordering something exotic but now that you say there would be no increments, I should order dal fry.. 🙂” By the way we do realize that after inflation and price rise, pulses have become costlier than most of the green veggies( commonly available), don’t we?
The protein laden lentils are a staple. Subsidized for the class which can afford it and abundant yet out reach for those who can’t. Hostels and jails(very thin line to differentiate them) would cease to exist if they did not have dal ( followed by potato) to their rescue. The most aesthetically shot jail shots include the prisoner being provided with dry roti and a bowl of dal. We have songs written on the humble dal. The rich have dal with desi ghee or butter and the poor have it without the extra richness but they all have it. The multipurpose legume has its reign over different palates, across classes.
A recent report in the newspaper suggested that getting attracted to fatty foods could be attributed to the genes present in human beings. I did not need that report; I can see it live in my family. Had it not been my mother, my father, my sister and me could have made it into the limca book of records for being on the wrong side of the weighing scale. She made sure having unhealthy food was like a barter system. So for every extra spoon of butter chicken that we had for lunch there was an extra spoon of bitter gourd on our plate, for dinner. She has made healthy eating a habit for us. I do not say that we are the epitome of fitness, we do realise its importance. Now the two of us, my sister and me, live away from parents and as the cliché goes, have realized the importance of healthy food only after leaving home.
Now dal(again for its availability), for me, has become conscience food. Whenever I have had a heavy lunch I make sure I have a bowl of dal at night. With a little bit of butter at the beginning of the month and without it at the end. I don’t say I sleep calorie-free but definitely guilt free!!!!! All thanks to my mom’s quality of choosing health over taste. ALWAYS. She doesn’t even need to drag God into convincing us. 🙂
That’s how I make dal fry:
- 1 cup Chana dal( I like it the most)
- 4 Cups water
- Oil /ghee/butter for masala
- Cumin seeds
- Dry Red chillies(2 or 3)
- 2 onions( chopped or sliced)
- Ginger-garlic paste( chopped ginger and garlic would also suffice)
- 2 tomatoes
- garam masala powder
- hara fresh dhaniya(finely chopped)
How I make it :
Rinse the chana dal and place it in a pressure cooker. I then add water, salt to taste and turmeric. Close the lid of the pressure cooker and place the whistle. I keep it on medium flame till the first whistle and then simmer it down completely for three more of those loud whistles.
i)In a pan I heat the oil. Add cumin seeds and then the split dry red chillies and wait for them to splutter. Once done I add the ginger garlic paste and fry till the paste turns a golden brown. I then add the onion( chopped or sliced depending on my mood) and wait for it to change color to brown.
ii)To this I add chopped tomatoes and fry the mixture till the tomatoes soften and the bhuna mixture starts releasing oil. I add a little bit of garam masala towards the end and a little bit of water.
iii)To this mixture I add the dal from the pressure cooker and add some water depending upon the needed consistency. Allow it to boil for a few minutes and then add finely chopped hara dhaniya and a blob of butter or spoon of desi ghee.
a) Instead of the paste we could add finely chopped ginger and garlic. This adds texture. I do not do it because I do not like the taste of garlic but do not mind the flavor.
b) Asfoetida( heeng) could be added. A pinch of it with the garam masala. That too depends on personal preferences.